By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 18, 2004 at 5:28 AM

{image1}When most Milwaukeeans hear the word "motorcycle," they usually think "Harley," but believe it or not, there's another motorcycle community in this hog-loving haven.

"I would estimate that there are probably close to 600 BMW riders in the metropolitan area, and probably close to 1,200 in southeastern Wisconsin," says Sue Rihn-Manke, who has owned BMW motorcycles since 1987 and logged more than 200,000 miles to date.

Although "Beemer" riders have a strong sense of community and camaraderie like their Harley counterparts, they are quite different in a number of ways. For starters, BMW riders refer to themselves as "motorcyclists," instead of "bikers," and Beemer riders often ride alone, or with one other rider, instead of in large groups.

"We enjoy solitude," says Rihn-Manke, who usually rides with her husband. "Most of us ride alone, or with a partner who shares our riding style."

They also prefer quiet cycles as opposed to those with loud pipes.

"In the same way I dislike having to breathe second-hand smoke when an inconsiderate smoker lights up near me, I resent the noise pollution that these riders feel is their right to intrude upon my space," says Rihn-Manke, an office manager from Eagle.

Although many Harley riders prefer to feel their hair blowing in the wind, BMW riders usually wear helmets and full riding gear.

"I wear full gear 100 percent of the time and I never drink and ride. Safety is my number one concern every time I get on my bike. Having fun and getting to a destination are secondary," says 36-year-old Rebecca Vaughn. (photographed). "Looking cool is obviously not a factor for me. I wear a dorky, fluorescent yellow 'hi-vis' vest."

Ironically, the bike bug first bit Vaughn, a professional photographer, while on a shoot for Harley-Davidson. But even though she found the ride exhilarating, she knew she wasn't going to purchase a Harley.

"I just knew that Harley wasn't for me. I didn't even consider it. In hindsight, the cost was a factor, the size of the bikes was intimidating to me as a new rider and frankly, I just didn't find the whole Harley mystique attractive."

In 2003, Vaughn completed an Iron Butt Association Saddlesore ride, a 24-hour, thousand-mile trip. She has eight long rides planned for 2004 that will take her, among other places, to Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri and Washington.

Like all cyclists, BMW-ers say the ride is as much fun as the destination. Vaughn, who lives in Riverwest, says when she mentioned to her mother she was meeting some riding friends for breakfast in Highland Park, Ill. her mother was baffled as to why they wouldn't just meet across town.

"Because the journey is usually just as important -- if not more so -- than the destination, I tend to get off the slab (freeway) and explore more back roads, look for little mom-and-pop restaurants, and have found some beautiful scenery, which is nice for my photography," she says. (Check out her riding-inspired photos at

Rihn-Manke and her family also find their relationship with nature to be a sacred aspect of riding.

"I took my son across the country when he was 12 and he made the following observation: 'If it is snowing, you are cold; if there is a pine forest, it smells incredible; if children are playing in the park, you can hear their laughter,'" she says.

Locally, there are several BMW clubs. The Wisconsin BMW Motorcycle club has more than 110 members and meets at the New Berlin VFW on the first Friday night of the month. Besides the Wisconsin Club, there are the "Belle City Beemers" in Racine, and the Port Washington BMW Club.

The national BMW motorcycle club is the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMW MOA) in St. Louis, Mo. Nearly 1,200 Wisconsin riders are BMW MOA members. Rihn-Manke is a director on the Board of Directors, and one of 167 ambassadors worldwide.

Both Vaughn and Rihn-Manke have also found strength and friendship in the BMW community, which seems to be as tight-knit as Harley's. When Vaughn lost her job as a producer at a local production firm, friends from her BMW clubs gave her leads, tips for improving her resume and regularly called to check in and see how she was doing.

"Everyone told me to take a motorcycle ride if I started feeling down," she says.

"A BMW rider can travel anywhere and know that he/she will have friends waiting at the end of the trip," says Rihn-Manke. "I can honestly say that I now have good friends all over this country and in Canada."

For more information about the Wisconsin BMW Motorcycle Club, go to

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.